Chelsea FC's Yuri Zhirkov is keen to start hitting his former heights when he meets old foes FC Spartak Moskva at a stadium which holds painful memories for the English champions.
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Chelsea FC midfielder Yuri Zhirkov spent six successful seasons with PFC CSKA Moskva but on Tuesday the Russian international returns to his homeland on club duty for the first time.
He does so against FC Spartak Moskva, his former employers' old foes and his current club's Group F rivals. Something will have to give at the Luzhniki Stadium – scene of Chelsea's 2007/08 UEFA Champions League final defeat by Manchester United FC – as both sides put their 100% records on the line. Zhirkov was still more than a year from moving to London at that time, but Tuesday's encounter nevertheless holds plenty of significance for the 27-year-old.
"During my time at CSKA, Spartak were our main rivals," he said. "This was the main derby for us and them. Spartak are very serious opponents and I think the atmosphere will show the significance of the match. I haven't heard any talk of the 2008 final among my team-mates. It is on a different pitch anyway."
Yet to make a Premier League start this term, having been in the first XI ten times en route to the title last season, Zhirkov knows he still has plenty to prove at Stamford Bridge. "I haven't lived up to my potential at Chelsea yet," added the 38-cap international. "Now I'm starting to gain form and fitness. With every game I feel more confident and there is certainly no lack of motivation for me if I have a chance to play [on Tuesday].
"Spartak are a very good team. After their win in Marseille [1-0 on Matchday 1] they have improved. They have good players and I'm sure we can expect a tough game. They will try to play attacking football. They have good players up front and they always play attacking at home."
While the game allows Zhirkov a return to familiar territory and Chelsea the chance to exorcise old demons, it is, according to defender Nicolas Pareja, an opportunity for Spartak to pit their wits against the very best. "It will be a special match," he said. "I have already played in the Champions League and played many important matches in Spain as well. The difference is that this is against Chelsea, one of the best teams in the world.
"During my career I have faced many tough opponents but Chelsea play different football, English football. I expect it will be a very difficult match, they have such great players in the squad like [Didier] Drogba and [Nicolas] Anelka. For us, the atmosphere will provide extra motivation. The public push us to victory and we always want to play with 80,000 people behind us."